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Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction

May 6–August 21, 2016
The Wolfsonian–FIU @ 1001 Washington Avenue

Ever since Columbus first stepped foot on Cuban soil and called it the “loveliest land that human eyes have ever seen,” visitors have continued to describe and picture Cuba as a paradise. In the first half of the twentieth century, American marketers, mobsters, and developers and Cuban artists, performers, and graphic designers jointly shaped the island’s reputation as a dreamy tropical escape. Publicity campaigns and Hollywood films touted Cuba’s promises of indulgence—rum and cigars, rumba and mambo, and legalized drinking and gambling—all before travel restrictions curbed the two countries’ tourist trade.

Through photographs, posters, and promotional ephemera drawn primarily from a gift by Vicki Gold Levi, Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction revisited this past relationship that left lasting traces in both nations. From the Prohibition era of the 1920s through the postwar tourism boom of the 1950s, the exhibition traced how wealthy Americans and celebrities were lured to the exotic nightclubs, casinos, and cabarets of Cuba—creating a flood of tourism, a perception of glamor, and a craze for Latin music and dance in the United States.

In tandem with the exhibition, The Wolfsonian Library presented the complementary installation Boxeo y Béisbol: The Cuba-U.S. Sports Exchange, which delved into how boxing and baseball built connections and careers amidst shifting diplomatic, and race, relations in the two countries.

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